State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Natalia

Unless you are more hardened to wonderful sights than I am, you will almost fancy yourself in some enchanted spot. You seem to stand on the glass of a gigantic kaleidoscope, over whose sparkling surface the sun breaks in infinite rainbows. You are ankle-deep in such chips as I’ll warrant you never saw from any other woodpile. What do you think of chips from trees that are red moss-agate, and amethyst, and smoky topaz, and agate of every hue? That is exactly the sort of splinters that cover the ground for miles here, around the huge prostrate trunks — some of them five feet through — from which Time’s patient ax has hewn them. Charles Fletcher Lummis wrote these words in 1892.

Nowadays you will not find such a magical lanscape in Petrified Forest. Park Service estimates the precious wood chips disappear - meaning are stolen by visitors and unethical entrepreneurs - at the staggering rate of a ton per month. One can buy them just outside the park for a few dollars a chip. Lummis was aware of the problem but optimistic about the solution: _The inevitable vandal has blown up a few of these superb stone logs with giant-powder, to get some specimens for his contemptible pocket; but there are thousands still spared, and the forest is now so guarded that a repetition of these outrages is not probable. _

Too bad he was also putting the site in jeopardy, and not just because he popularized its existence: I broke a specimen from the heart of a tree there, years ago, which had, around the stone pith, a remarkable array of large and exquisite crystals; for on one side of the specimen—which is not so large as my hand—is a beautiful mass of crystals of royal purple amethyst, and on the other an equally beautiful array of smoky topaz crystals. One can also get magnificent cross-sections of a whole trunk, so thin as to be portable, and showing every vein and even the bark. There is not a chip in all those miles which is not worthy a place, just as it is, in the proudest cabinet.Petrified wood chips are no longer ankle deep. They don’t even fully cover the ground. Several more years and there may be nothing left but few logs to remind us of the wonderful sight fallen pray to greed. Visit it before it’s gone.


Every time I flush the toilet in Las Vegas, I feel like I just doubled my eco footprint. And it’s Earth Day so I am extra guilty. Not guilty enough to pack and leave of course. Well, make it: not sober enough. Spending couple days here is probably less Earth-friendly than driving from Boston to Los Angeles in our truck for no particular reason other than writing this blog. But if you are trying to understand this country, you can do much worse than ending up in the casino oasis.


Extinct volcanos are bound to be disappointing. We expect to arrive at the scene of a catastrophe. We end up admiring picturesque hills. I guess Pompeii is an exception: a city buried under ash, destructive power of the explosion preserving ancient artifacts for our benefit. I was thinking of Pompeii when touring Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments. When the volcano here erupted sometime before 1100, Anasazi civilization was still very much present in the area. I envisioned pueblo-style buildings preserved in ash, hoping for something spared from well meaning, but misguided, 20th century archeologists. But this is not Pompeii. Inhabitants of Wupatki pueblo were not doing so great before the eruption. Porous desert soil, unable to hold water, was lacking nutrients due to over-cultivation. Ash from the volcano acted as a fertilizer and improved water-holding capacity of their fields. Researchers found imprints of corn ears in lava flow. The working hypothesis is that they were offerings intended to stop the eruption. But maybe we underestimate our predecessors: what if they knew the volcano was actually beneficial and fed it corn to keep it going?